The terms are part of the agreement between the SEIU Healthcare 1199NW union and hospital management

Cameron Sheppard for Renton Reporter

Workers in the behavioral health, nurses, mental health technicians, and support staff at Cascade Behavioral Health voted overwhelmingly on Nov. 10, to ratify collective bargaining agreements that they say raise the bar on quality care, and patient and worker safety standards.

The resolution follows an over three-month safety strike by the caregivers, who were spurred to action after a violent incident at Cascade Behavioral Health hospital left nearly a dozen staff members injured. They walked off the job 15 weeks ago demanding dedicated security staff to keep patients and workers safe, and on Wed, Nov. 10, they announced the agreement.

“This is a huge victory for patients and caregivers at Cascade and behavioral health facilities nationwide,” said Mental Health Technician Hawah Aminzason. “Across the country, patient safety and worker safety are being put in serious jeopardy to boost shareholder profits. Our unity and courage have sent a strong message that it’s time to fix for-profit behavioral healthcare, starting with Acadia Healthcare.” 

The SEIU Healthcare 1199NW union says the agreement is poised to be a model for behavioral healthcare workers nationwide. The provisions include:

– Five dedicated safety techs who are trained in de-escalation techniques, support trauma-informed care, and can respond to emergency situations on both day and night shifts.

– Industry-leading safe staffing ratios for all units and patient placement guidelines.

– Guidelines that charge nurses will not have patient assignments, and “sitter” assignments will be made in addition to Registered Nurse and Mental Health Tech staffing.

– 15% raises over the three-year agreement and return to work bonuses.

– A mediated process to address hurtful and discriminatory behavior and discuss equity and racial justice.

– An agreement on COVID safety, including the testing and notice staff need to work safely.

The agreements at the 137-bed facility cover 220 workers including registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, mental health technicians, and service workers.

“This agreement is a big win for my patients and my community,” said Lidia Abushet, licensed practical nurse. “Everyone was behind our efforts, because they agreed that caregivers and patients deserve a safe environment to work and recover. We rejected Cascade’s for-profit cost-cutting and stuck together to guarantee workplace safety.”

In October, a delegation of strikers took their demands to the streets of Washington, D.C., where they confronted parent company Acadia Healthcare’s CEO Debbie Osteen and other corporate executives at a national behavioral healthcare conference.

“Acadia’s business model is broken. It relies on dangerous under-staffing that puts patients and caregivers in harm’s way. With this historic victory we’re proving that we can change the way Acadia does business, and we intend to do exactly that,” said Jane Hopkins, Executive Vice President of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.

Workers began their safety strike not only in response to the August 1 incident with a volatile patient but also ongoing, unchecked workplace violence, ​​chronic understaffing, racism, and deficient COVID-19 protections. For three months, hundreds of Cascade employees held a lively picket line calling for their demands to be met and were joined by elected officials as well as faith leaders and other community supporters.

Most of the SEIU Healthcare 1199NW caregivers at Cascade are women, many of whom are immigrants and workers of color. They won provisions that will not only make Cascade safer for themselves and their patients, but also ways to ensure safe staffing and address racism inside their facility.

front of Cascade Behavioral Health hospital (photo credit: Cameron Sheppard)

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